Local News

Easley Gambles On Lottery To Fund Education Expansion

Posted February 19, 2001

— Gov. Mike Easley announced plans to expand public education in hisState of the State addressMonday night. Paying for it when money is tight is another matter, and his solution divides politicians and voters.

The governor's education plan includes:

  • Smaller classes for kindergarten through third grade
  • More alternative schools
  • A statewide, pre-kindergarten for at-risk 4-year-olds

    The governor wants to pay for those new programs with a state lottery.

    "From the educational perspective, we'll get money from the lottery, but we won't get it from other places," says Dr. Dennis Daley, a political science professor atN.C. State.

    Daley says a lottery is fiscally appealing during a down economy. Even though people say they do not like it, he says they like tax increases even less.

    "You could raise taxes to pay for education, yet four years from now, Governor Easley will run for re-election and people will forget the good things those taxes bought," Daley says. "All the good things will be ignored, and they'll say, 'You raised taxes!'"

    TheNorth Carolina Association of Educatorswill support a state lottery if all of the money goes to new, not existing, funding of schools. But Easley's message is not winning over everyone.

    "My mail is running about 10 to one against the lottery," says Rep. Carolyn Russell, a Republican from Goldsboro. Russell feels that Easley's bold pitch for the lottery changed few, if any, votes among house members.

    Easley's pitch focused on the millions of dollars North Carolina residents spend on lottery tickets in Virginia, Tennessee and soon South Carolina.

    Legislative insiders point out that the latest straw poll shows there is not enough support in the House to bring out, much less approve, a lottery or even a lottery referendum.

    Only one lottery bill has been filed this year. House Bill 1 would put the lottery issue to a referendum. Right now, it is stuck in committee.

    Easley has a few other choices for funding his education plans. He can slash existing programs, which lawmakers may not support. He also can delay them until the state can find money elsewhere.

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